Until several weeks ago, Benjamin Netanyahu tended to start distributing his new autobiography three weeks after the elections. Then, for some unknown reason, he and his publishers decided to start the distribution three weeks before the elections. What followed was that the book is now on sale – both in English and Hebrew – and is being widely publicized in all the media venues, and that the chapter dealing with Bibi’s, and his two brothers’ childhood was published in Hebrew in full in Yediot Aharonot on October 4.
In addition, unexpectedly, the whole book was posted last week in PDF form on social media, apparently by a Labor Party activist, who believes that Netanyahu poses a threat to Israeli society, and that his book is full of deceptive “inventions.”
Like everything that Netanyahu writes or utters, the new book is under suspicion, since he is known to be flimsy with his facts, either deliberately or as a matter of course; and since he himself views his new autobiography as his answer to the mostly hostile reporting of his actions and career, it is not surprising to discover that he has taken his report to the other extreme, and has deliberately avoided any embarrassing or complicated facts or events.
This has resulted in there being very few new revelations in the book, and no information about controversial issues such as the submarine affair, or the fact that there are no longer any liberal or pragmatic right-wing parties left in his political bloc.
Dr. Baruch Leshem, from the Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem, who several years ago published a book in Hebrew titled Netanyahu: A School for Political Marketing, referred to the book in a recent article as “a 589-page election speech.” I am not sure that this is an accurate description of the book, but if it is, then the question is: at whom is this election speech aimed?
IF IT is designed for members of the center-left political camp, then it misses the point. It is not that this camp is unwilling to feel appreciation, and even some admiration, for Netanyahu’s personal history, but you cannot speak and write while trying to limit, ignore and even negate the achievements of this camp before the Likud came to power for the first time in 1977, and in the relatively brief periods when it was in power since then – including the “government of change.”
For example, it is a well-known fact that in the 1930s David Ben-Gurion, after having held meetings with various Arab leaders inside and outside Mandatory Palestine, reached the conclusion that only after the Arabs would realize that they could not defeat us, would conditions for a peaceful settlement develop.
In an article he published in Haaretz on October 14, which contained some of the issues he dealt with in his book, which he thought would appeal to the center-left public, Netanyahu mentioned his attitude to this issue.
He associated his position with the famous article by Ze’ev Jabotinsky “The Iron Wall,” written in 1923, in the wake of the 1921 Arab pogroms against the Jewish population in Palestine, against the background of the British commitment to the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Jabotinsky stated that it was an illusion to believe that the Jews could purchase Arab consent to Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael in return for money or promises for betterment in their living conditions.
Only if they will lose hope of liquidating the Zionist endeavor will peace be possible, he added. In other words, we shall have to be to be strong enough so that their basic state of mind will change.
According to Netanyahu, he based his own policy on this concept expressed by Jabotinsky in 1923, and bequeathed to Netanyahu by his father. Netanyahu speaks of military power, economic power – “hard power” – to ensure Israel’s fortitude, and this in addition to “soft power,” which involves cultural values, morality and democracy, but which is useless – according to him – in the defeat of the forces of evil, without the hard power.
With all due respect, Jabotinsky was speaking in theoretical terms, while Ben-Gurion – who is ignored by Bibi – was a leader who implemented this concept as leader of the Zionist movement, the Yishuv, and then as first prime minister of the State of Israel. But Netanyahu would like us to believe that before he was first elected as prime minister in 1996, Israel was a weak, primitive state, lacking a modern military force (including a nuclear capability), without any sophisticated industries – a third world state.
His son Yair stated in an interview with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach almost three years ago that “[my father] took a country back in the 1990s that, besides the existential threat that it was in, was in horrible economic [shape], it was pretty much a Soviet-style economy, socialist-primitive economy. No exports, for example, besides oranges or something like this. It was very isolated in the world.
“Obviously, the main reason Israel was isolated in the world was because it was weak. Nobody wants to be friends with the weak.... So, he has changed the economy of Israel to a capitalist, free-market, prosperous economy....” Bibi didn’t bother to correct him.
So perhaps Netanyahu is aiming at his own camp, where allegedly there are “hundreds of thousands” of Likud supporters who are not planning to go out to vote on November 1, for no particular reason. Here the question is whether these hundreds of thousands – or more likely, tens of thousands – will bother to spend close to NIS 100 on a book, and read 589 pages devised to convince them to devote 30 minutes to going out to the polling stations next week.
Perhaps Netanyahu should have devoted several pages in his book to offering a realistic policy for reducing prices (how about trying to convince his good friend Vladimir Putin to stop his attempt to conquer the Ukraine?), or for investing efforts and funds in strengthening Israel’s “soft power,” in which, according to the annual US News & World Report Best Countries survey, which Netanyahu continuously quotes, Israel’s position in the world is pretty gloomy.
True, until several years ago, Israel held eighth position in the world in hard power terms for several years running, and for which Netanyahu takes full credit, but it is in as low as 70th and 80th place in some other components of the survey.
In short, it is doubtful whether Netanyahu’s autobiography will have any sort of effect on any of the voters. In fact, in recent weeks opinion polls have shown the Likud losing votes to the Religious Zionist Party.
A cartoon that appeared in one of the dailies last Friday showed an agitated Bibi standing in front of the results of a poll, and Itamar Ben-Gvir – leader of Otzma Yehudit – with an insolent expression on his face, saying to him “go on writing books.”
The voters who are shifting their support from Bibi to Ben-Gvir are not interested in the former’s self-praise and glorification, but, rather, in the latter’s provocative style and extreme positions.
The rest of us – who wouldn’t dream of ever voting for Bibi – would have preferred a more sincere and historically accurate memoir from someone who certainly has a story to tell.
The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book is Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, published by Routledge.